Friday, February 29, 2008

What Muslims Want

Did you know that over the past six years, Muslims in 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East have been interviewed for a survey that is part of Gallup’s World Poll?

Well, results of this survey were released earlier this week, and they offer informed, interesting, and, to my mind, hopeful insights into the Muslim world - and, in particular, what the vast majority of Muslims want.

Following are excerpts from Karin Zeitvogel’s news story on the release of this survey’s findings. These excerpts are accompanied by images of Moorish architecture, a term used to describe the Islamic architecture of North Africa and parts of Spain and Portugal where the Moors were dominant from 711-1492. Unique in its ornamentation and beauty, it’s definitely one of my favorite styles of architecture.


A huge survey of the world’s Muslims released Tuesday challenges Western notions that equate Islam with radicalism and violence.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup polling agency over six years and three continents, seeks to dispel the belief held by some in the West that Islam itself is the driving force of radicalism.

It shows that the overwhelming majority of Muslims condemned the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 and other subsequent terrorist attacks, the authors of the study said in Washington.

“Samuel Harris said in the Washington Times [in 2004]: ‘It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam’,” Dalia Mogahed, co-author of the book Who Speaks for Islam, which grew out of the study, told a news conference. “The argument Mr Harris makes is that religion in the primary driver” of radicalism and violence, she said.

“Religion is an important part of life for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, and if it were indeed the driver for radicalization, this would be a serious issue.”

But the study, which Gallup says surveyed a sample equivalent to 90 percent of the world’s Muslims, showed that widespread religiosity “does not translate into widespread support for terrorism,” said Mogahed, director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.

. . . [Muslim extremists] gave political, not religious, reasons for condoning the attacks, the poll showed. The survey shows [these extremists] to be neither more religious than their moderate counterparts, nor products of abject poverty or refugee camps.

. . . Gallup launched the study following 9/11, after which US President George W. Bush asked in a speech, which is quoted in the book: “Why do they hate us?”

“They hate... a democratically elected government,” Bush offered as a reason. “They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

But the poll, which gives ordinary Muslims a voice in the global debate that they have been drawn into by 9/11, showed that most Muslims – including radicals – admire the West for its democracy, freedoms and technological prowess. What they do not want is to have Western ways forced on them, it said.

“Muslims want self-determination, but not an American-imposed and -defined democracy. They don’t want secularism or theocracy. What the majority wants is democracy with religious values,” said [John] Esposito [a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University in Washington].

The poll has given voice to Islam’s silent majority, said Mogahed. “A billion Muslims should be the ones that we look to, to understand what they believe, rather than a vocal minority,” she told Agence France-Presse.

To read Zeitvogel’s article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East
A Dangerous Medieval Conviction
The Blood-soaked Thread
A Reign of Ignorance and Fear in the U.S.
Tariq Ali Discusses Rudyard Kipling
The Real Fascist Threat in Europe

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Letting Them Sit By Me

I last wrote about the small group of friends I had over to watch the Oscars telecast, and the five highlights for me of this particular film awards ceremony. It was a fun post about a fun event and a fun little get-together. Yet there’s more to tell about that night.

For you see, a couple of hours after my friends left, I came down with a terrible bout of food poisoning. It wasn’t caused by something I ate that night, but by something I ate the night before. I could even tell you exactly what I believe it was that I ate and where I ate it. Yet since I can’t actually prove anything, it would be remiss of me to publicly name this particular eating establishment.

Besides, it’s all rather pointless. The thing is I became terribly ill – violently ill – for several hours early Monday morning. I’ll spare you the details, as I’m sure you’ve experienced similar or the same type of experience.

A very scary thing

I would, however, like to share what I thought about during that time. First, as some of you might be able to attest, being alone and sick can be a very scary thing. And with food poisoning you really do feel as if you’re going to and/or want to die! Of course, this is usually before things start being expelled from your body.

I knew what was happening. I knew what would have to happen before I began to feel better. And I just wanted it to all end – in particular the terrible nausea, the shaking and sweating, the panicked sense of claustrophobia – knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do to escape what I was going through – and the irrational fear that this agony might never end.

Throwing-up is a very unpleasant experience. Repeatedly throwing-up is even worse. Yet once my body started this particular process of ridding itself of whatever it was that it needed to reject, I felt within me a kind of strength, a strange resolve, or, perhaps better still, a calming sense of certainty. My body knew what it was doing, and it was getting on with it – regardless of how unpleasant I might consider it to be.

I will be alright, a part of me intuitively sensed. This will end.

Despite my weak and pathetic state, I knew that I would soon be stretched out on my bed, relieved of much of the pain I was currently experiencing. I knew that in a matter of days I’d once again have the strength to complete my regular sets of weight training exercises, push-ups and sit-ups. I knew that although food was now the last thing on my mind, I’d soon be able to once again enjoy cooking and eating. And although I was now alone and feeling wretched, I knew I had a wonderful circle of family and friends who would care about what I was going through and offer advice and help in my recovery. In short, I knew that I would be okay, even though in many ways, I was still feeling terribly ill.

But the others?

Almost simultaneously, I began thinking about others who were experiencing the type of discomfort and pain I was feeling but who would not be okay. I thought, for example, of people living with chronic pain, of poor people throughout the world in agony for days with dysentery, tuberculosis, and all manner of infectious diseases. I thought of third-world children dehydrated from diarrhea and weak from hunger; of torture victims, blindfolded and alone in their fear and pain. I also thought of workers who do not have the luxury that I knew I would have over the next few days of being able to take time off work so as to stay home in a warm house and a comfortable bed so as to recover.

I tried to relate to such people, to these brothers and sisters of mine throughout the world, but soon realized I couldn’t – not really. For I could say with certainty that “I will be alright . . . This will end.” Yet, more often than not, they cannot. I could pray with them and for them, I told myself. But I wanted more.

I realized I wanted something concrete, something positive and proactive to come out of this terrible experience I was going through – something more than just a fleeting raising of consciousness about the plight of the poor in other parts of the world.

The Fever

As I collapsed exhausted upon my bed, I found myself thinking of scenes from the HBO-produced adaptation of Wallace Shawn’s play, The Fever, starring Vanessa Redgrave. It’s the story of a first world, upper-middle class woman who, while visiting an impoverished, brutalized country, realizes that the economic system that has shaped her life and keeps it full of comforts and cheap commodities, keeps others in poverty. She experiences this realization as a fever – one from which she is unable to escape until she acknowledges that her life within such an unjust economic arrangement is “irredeemably corrupt.” She then can accept that she is “no better than the beggar or the chambermaid” and so “does not deserve to have more than they have.”

The Fever ponders the troubling question: what is a morally consistent way to live in the world as it is? The film offers no quick fixes, no ready answers. We’re simply left with Redgrave’s character anticipating her return to her comfortable home in London, where she’ll be in “my own room, surrounded by my own things – my lamp, my clock, books, presents, my porcelain ballerina.”

Yet things won’t be the same; she can’t and won’t forget the poor. Accordingly, her monologue concludes with these words: “And there among [my things] from now on, let those faces [of the poor] sit by my bed.”

And so I thought: how can I let those same faces sit by my bed, be a part of my everyday life to the extent that they constantly remind me, challenge me, change me?

Something more

As I’ve slowly recovered over the past three days, I’ve thought a lot about this question. I already sponsor a boy in Egypt through
Save the Children Fund, but wanted to do something more, something positive and proactive that I could remember as springing from my recent night of sickness and discomfort.

After careful thought and prayer I went online last night and joined the
Field Partnership Program of Doctor’s Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) by committing to make a monthly financial contribution. It seems insignificant in many ways, I know. But it’s something. And something more than I was doing yesterday.

As part of this program I’ll receive the Doctors Without Borders’ quarterly publication, Alert. I intend cutting out pictures from this publication – pictures of the faces of those I’m reaching out to, helping, standing in solidarity with in this small way of mine. I’ll put these pictures on my refrigerator door and in different places around my home.

I’ll let those faces sit by me.

I’ll let them challenge me and change me.

And I’ll remember our connection.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In Search of a “Global Ethic”
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”
John Pilger on Resisting Empire
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under
Richard Flanagan Wants a “Gentler, More Generous” Australia
John le Carré’s “Dark Suspicions”
Reflections on Babel and the “Borders Within”
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
Capitalism on Trial

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Five Oscar Highlights

Okay, let me say from the outset that I thought Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony was a decidedly lackluster affair. Host Jon Stewart’s jokes were, for the most part, lame, and the evening’s slate of nominees failed to reflect some of the better films and acting achievements of the past year. Still, the Oscars are the Oscars. And so, as in past years, I had some friends over to watch the ceremony.

Before the broadcast started, we all completed an Oscars ballot – nominating who we hoped and/or thought would win in the various categories. We then settled in to enjoy the show.

Following is my own highly subjective, and in some ways, lighthearted, list of “five Oscar highlights”:

Highlight Number 5: Getting to see and hear Kristen Chenoweth, who performed the Oscar-nominated “original song,” “That’s How You Know,” from the film Enchanted.

The reason this was a highlight for me is that Chenoweth is set to play my favorite vocalist, the late, great Dusty Springfield, in a forthcoming biopic. Accordingly, I’ve long wanted to see her in performance and, more importantly, hear her sing. Physically, the blond and petite Chenoweth could certainly pass as Dusty, and she definitely has a good voice. Yet it’s a Broadway voice, whereas Dusty was perhaps the quintessential pop/soul voice of the latter half of the twentieth century. Accordingly, I’m hoping that the film’s producers opt to use the real Dusty’s voice for their biopic. Yet judging from previous movies about singers like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, using original recordings of great vocalists doesn’t seem to be the Hollywood way.

Highlight Number 4: The calling back of Markéta Irglová to make her speech.

Here’s how Entertainment Weekly writer Gary Susman explains this highlight, one that he considers the “classiest moment” of this year’s Oscars: “Usually, once conductor Bill Conti has the orchestra play you off the stage, your speech is through; there are no do-overs. But Markéta Irglová, who co-starred with Glen Hansard in Once and co-wrote and performed the winning song ‘Falling Slowly’ with him, did get a second chance, as Conti had played her off before she even got to open her mouth. After the commercial break, however, Jon Stewart brought her back out onstage and let her give a lovely speech, which she dedicated to ‘all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling.’ The victory for her underdog film in this category, she said, served ‘to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible.’ ”

Highlight 3: Freeheld winning best “documentary short.

Freeheld, directed by Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth, follows the story of Lieutenant Laurel Hester, a lesbian New Jersey police detective, who while dying from cancer, battles the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders to leave her pension benefits to her life-partner, Stacie. It’s a fight she ultimately loses as homosexual couples in most places in the United States are yet to be afforded the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

I thought it was both ironic and somewhat amusing that the nominees and ultimate winner of the “Best Documentary Short” category were announced via satellite by several U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. I mean, with its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the U.S. military isn’t the most gay-friendly of establishments. And yet here it was announcing a decidedly pro-gay rights film as the winner! A further twist: as more than one of my guests observed, one of the young soldiers who was part of this particular segment definitely came across as a “friend of Dorothy”!

Highlight Number 2: Alex Gibney’s acceptance speech after his film, Taxi to the Dark Side, won “Best Documentary Feature.”

Director Alex Gibney’s film explores the story of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The film also examines the broader issue of U.S. policy as it pertains to torture and interrogation, and specifically the CIA’s use of torture and its research into sensory deprivation.

Following is Gibney’s powerful acceptance speech, which, without doubt, served as the most politically-charged moment of the evening:

Wow. Thank you very much, Academy. Here’s to all doc filmmakers. And, truth is, I think my dear wife Anne was kind of hoping I’d make a romantic comedy, but honestly, after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, that simply wasn’t possible. This is dedicated to two people who are no longer with us. Dilawar, the young Afghan taxi driver, and my father, a Navy interrogator who urged me to make this film because of his fury about what was being done to the rule of law. Let’s hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light. Thank you very much.

And finally, Highlight Number One . . .

. . . the beautiful Javier Bardem!

Bardem won “Best Supporting Actor” for his role in the Cohen brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men, which, at the end of the evening, won the Oscar for “Best Picture.” I’ve yet to see this film, so really can’t comment on it. I can, however, say that Javier is one sexy man (and my friend Franco totally agrees!). Oh, and I thought that it was so cool that he brought his mother along to the Oscars!

Following is Bardem’s acceptance speech:

Wow. Alright, this is very amazing. It’s a great honor for me to have this. I want to . . . and I have to speak fast here, man. Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think that I could do that and put one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head. Thank you for really proving my work. I want to share this with the cast, with the great Tommy Lee Jones, with the great Josh Brolin, with the great Kelly MacDonald. And I want to dedicate this to my mother, and I have to say this in Spanish, and I’m sorry . . . Ama, estos para ti, estos para tus abuelos, para tus padres y la familia Matilde, esto es para los comicos de España, que han traido como tu la dignidad y el orgullo a nuestro officio. Esto is para España y esto es para todos nosotros. Thank you very much!

Here’s the English translation of that part of Bardem’s speech dedicated to his mother: “Mom, this is for you, this is for your grandparents, for your parents and the Matilde family, this is for the comedians of Spain, who have, like you, brought dignity and pride to our profession. This is for Spain, and this is for all of us.”

If, like me, you’re in the Twin Cities area, you might be interested to know that Landmark is currently screening all of the animated and live action short films nominated at this year’s Academy Awards.

Oh, and one last thing while I’m on the Oscars: Two people involved in the film industry who died during the past year and who were honored by the Academy during Sunday’s broadcast have been the focus of two previous Wild Reed posts. They are actors Deborah Kerr and Heath Ledger.

Recommended Off-site Links:
The 80th Annual Academy Awards: A Mostly Routine Affair - Hiram Lee, World Socialist Web Site, February 26, 2008.
An interview with Alex Gibney, director of Taxi to the Dark Side - Democracy Now, February 26, 2008.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Problem with Juno
Reflections on the Overlooked Children of Men
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Reflections on Babel and the “Borders Within”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Amy Goodman and the “Sacred Responsibility” of Listening

The cover story of this month’s issue of The Progressive is an interview by Elizabeth DiNovella of award-winning journalist Amy Goodman.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Amy on a number of occasions over the years, and have always been impressed and inspired by her professionalism, dedication, and passion.

Here’s how DiNovella describes Amy Goodman in the introduction to her interview:

Amy Goodman is one of the leading journalists of our time. She is executive producer and host of Democracy Now!, a daily, independent radio and television news program broadcast on 650 stations around the world.

“I’ve always been surprised that people say it’s a hopeful program because we deal with such difficult subjects,” she says. “But I think it’s hopeful because of the people we interview. They are both the analysts and those that are doing something about it, wherever they might be.”

Many people, including myself, have relied upon Amy Goodman’s reporting on the Bush Administration. She’s the left hook to the rightwing Administration’s assault on our civil liberties. She doesn’t flinch from tough topics like torture, and she interviews people other media neglect, such as Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni national who was a victim of the CIA rendition program. She scrums with the likes of Lou Dobbs. And her coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq goes beyond retired generals and Beltway pundits. Unlike other news programs, anti-war voices get their say on Democracy Now!

She has a missionary zeal and calls journalism “a sacred responsibility.” Goodman started out as a volunteer at WBAI, the Pacifica radio station in New York City. She went on to become WBAI’s news director. She launched Democracy Now! as a radio show on the Pacifica network in 1996 and eventually it evolved into a television program.

She’s done her share of international reporting, too. In 1991, Indonesian soldiers beat her bloody and fractured the skull of Allan Nairn in East Timor as they followed a memorial procession. She and Nairn survived the Santa Cruz massacre, though 270 Timorese were killed. Goodman and Nairn were thrown out of the country and produced Massacre: The Story of East Timor, a documentary about the Indonesian and American involvement in the Southeast Asian nation. They won numerous awards for their reporting, including the Robert F. Kennedy Prize for International Reporting, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award, the Armstrong Award, the Radio/Television News Directors Award, as well as awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She returned to East Timor for live coverage in 2002 when the nation gained its independence.

In 1998, she and then-Democracy Now! producer Jeremy Scahill traveled to Nigeria and documented the collusion between Chevron Oil company and the Nigerian Navy’s killing of two local environmental activists and other human rights abuses. Drilling and Killing won George Polk and Project Censored awards.

Reporting runs in the family. With her brother David, she has co-authored two books, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back and The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them. She somehow finds the time to write a weekly syndicated newspaper column.

Below are excerpts from DiNovella’s interview with Amy Goodman, followed by some reflections of mine inspired by Goodman’s contention that journalism is a “sacred responsibility.”

As you’ll see, I take this to mean that it is the core of journalism, i.e., the listening to others - especially those dismissed and ignored by the mainstream - and the inclusion of their voices and experiences in the important discussions and deliberations of the day, that is a sacred endeavor. It’s an endeavor I feel blessed to be engaged in within the context of the Roman Catholic Church through my work with
CPCSM and The Progressive Catholic Voice.


Elizabeth DiNovella: Talking to people who are the target of U.S. foreign policy is a hallmark of your show. How did that happen?

Amy Goodman: We have a special responsibility as American journalists. We live in the most powerful country on Earth. Yet there is probably a level of ignorance about our effect in the rest of the world because the media doesn’t bring it to us. It’s much more difficult for people at the target end to forget, to be oblivious, because they are right there living it every day. We have a responsibility here to understand what it feels like, because we are the ones who are creating that situation, whether we like it or not.

We’re constantly hearing from the small circle of pundits in Washington who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us, and getting it so wrong. Every network is the same. Unfortunately, sometimes public broadcasting sounds the same way.

The United States has the potential to have tremendous power for good. Right now, it just doesn’t have that position. But there are many, many people who make up a pro-democracy movement in this country, just like in other countries, people who really do deeply care. If we want to be safer here, we have to extend those voices to the rest of the world. That’s going to increase our national security.

Elizabeth DiNovella: The FCC just relaxed media ownership limits. What’s your response to that?

Amy Goodman: We’ve got hundreds of channels with fewer and fewer owners and it’s a very big problem. There’s the illusion of diversity but what matters is who owns these channels. That’s why regulations are so important.

The media is the place where we have a discussion with each other. We can’t know everyone individually. We do it through the media. When the kitchen table that we all sit around is controlled by a very few, they are deciding who comes to the table, and that can determine the decisions that are made, when we go to war and when we don’t.

Elizabeth DiNovella: What do you think was the mainstream media’s biggest failing regarding the Iraq War?

Amy Goodman: Simply that it beat the drums for war. As Noam Chomsky says, the media manufactures consent, and they did it for war. There were so many people all over the globe who were protesting the war. In February 2003, millions of people marched, yet the Bush Administration went forward, enabled by the Democrats.

The media act as a megaphone for those in power, the Democrats and the Republicans. When the spectrum of debate between them is very small, that’s as far as the media will go. In the lead up to the invasion, the Democrats joined with Republicans in authorizing war. The media overwhelmingly presented that point of view, that pro-war position, even though most people in this country were opposed to the war.

And now the latest news we find is that the Democratic leaders like House Speaker Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and former Senator Bob Graham were briefed for years on waterboarding, on torture. Where was the protest?

On Democracy Now!, we’ve just spoken to Henri Alleg, the French journalist who was in Algeria, now in his eighties, who describes waterboarding as if it were yesterday. Because when you yourself are tortured, you never forget. He described what it meant to feel like he was suffocating, not “simulated drowning” but actually drowning.

Elizabeth DiNovella: Why did you become a journalist? What inspired you?

Amy Goodman: I saw it as a way to deal with issues of social justice. Even from when I was a little kid, I was inspired by my younger brother David, whom I write the books with. David had Dave’s Press when we were younger, and there were these little signs in our house up to his room that said Dave’s Press. He had this old Xerox machine, and you’d have to put all your weight on it to burn an image onto the paper. It was sort of a glorified family calendar. He would say things like, “Mom spanked Amy.” My mother would say, “You’re not airing any dirty laundry.” And then he would cry censorship. But he really cried, because he was a kid. And he had letters to the editor. My grandfather would write in and disagree with him on war. “I love you very much but I have to disagree with you.” David would write back, “Dear Grandpa, thank you so much for being my first subscriber, but you are being stupid about the war.” And then my great-uncle would write in. That’s where we would debate the political issues of the day.

In junior high school and high school, I was on our school newspapers, and they were holding the principal accountable. Then I just went on to a bigger stage.

But it’s important to hold people in power accountable, whether it’s parents or principals or what’s happening in the world.

Elizabeth DiNovella: You and David have a new book coming out in April, Standing Up to the Madness. What’s it about?

Amy Goodman: The idea of how people make a difference. People make up movements in every continent. Every action we engage in really does matter, whether it’s kids trying to put on a school play and being told they can’t talk about war. It’s about dissident soldiers and officers who say no. Even when the trend is going the other way, what it means to find that strength inside and say, “I cannot live with this.” This determines what direction we go in and defines history.

Elizabeth DiNovella: Do you ever get discouraged by your work?

Amy Goodman: The more difficult the issue, the more amazing people are in dealing with it. That’s where I find the hope. Even in places like East Timor, people had hope that in this terrible slaughter for a quarter of a century, they would see the end of it. They would be independent, a new nation would be born. It’s just astounding.

But in the midst of it, it was hard to believe. And yet the people whose families were being killed, they were the ones who were saying there was hope. You find that in some of the most difficult situations, whether it’s in another country or right here.

There are a lot of hopeful people who think that things can be better. We need to broadcast those voices. The most hopeless, cynical voices are those we hear or watch on television. And that can be very depressing. It generates apathy.

Elizabeth DiNovella: Your critics say you are too much of an advocate. How do you respond?

Amy Goodman: I don’t really know what that means. I care deeply about what I cover. And I think we have a tremendous responsibility as journalists to expose what’s going on in the world. When you see suffering, you care. We never want to take that out of our work.

Advocating for more voices to be heard? I plead guilty. Opening up the airwaves, joining people around the world in a global discussion about what should happen? I plead guilty.

As for advocacy journalism, I think the corporate journalists are the best model of that. We know their points of view. We know how important they felt it was to invade Iraq. We knew what it felt like to be in a tank or helicopter and to ask the pilot or the soldier to show how the gun was shot or how the helicopter flew. We learned all that from them. We learned who they thought was important to interview, and who was silenced, and that was the majority of people.

Those who are for peace are not a fringe minority. They are not a silent majority, but a silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media.

To read Elizabeth DiNovella’s interview with Amy Goodman in its entirety, click here.


Reading about Goodman advocating for more voices to be heard in the media brought a smile to my face. Hey, that’s what I’m all about within the Roman Catholic Church!, I thought to myself. I advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics and their families. I work for their voices to be heard, their experiences respected. And, yes, I really do believe that such an endeavor is a sacred responsibility.

I mean, think about it: there is something empowering and liberating, and thus something sacred about the inclusion of all. There is something universal (dare I say, catholic!) about the recognition, acknowledgment, and celebration of God present and active in the lives and relationships of all. Thus the need to hear from all when formulating statements, doctrines, and teachings that seek to be life-giving, that seek to continue Jesus’ ministry of bringing good news and setting captives free.

Yet such a ministry requires reaching out, interacting with, and listening to others. Listening, after all, is a life-giving act. Religious educator and author Maria Harris also reminds us that: “Genuine wisdom involves learning from the wisdoms of . . . forgotten or overlooked people”.

Like LGBT persons, women within the Catholic community are also often “forgotten” and “overlooked”. Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, has written eloquently of “the value of being listened to” when marginalized as a woman within an institution like the Roman Catholic Church.

“No set of rules,” she writes, “no prescriptions from on high, ever carried me through the dark or gave me courage for the heights. It was the people who took time to listen to me who gave me something more important than the rules to live by. They gave me back a sense of myself, of my own convictions, of the law of God within my heart.”

Sadly, with regards to some issues, such listening is simply not considered necessary by elements within the Church. I’m mindful, for instance, of the November 2006 “pastoral guidelines” for those ministering to “persons with a homosexual inclination” - guidelines that were drawn up without a single gay person being consulted, without a single gay person being listened to.

Accordingly, I consider Goodman’s critique of “the small circle of pundits in Washington who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us, and getting it so wrong,” applicable to the members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, often when Goodman talks about the shortcomings and potential of the United States media, I am reminded of the current state of the Church. In recent years, both seem to have been hijacked by reactionary elements.

Of course, a non-inclusive mentality has always being present in the Church. Perhaps one way of understanding such a mentality is as the shadow side of any religion that develops an institutional dimension. Don’t get me wrong: we need institutions, i.e., organizing principles and structures. Yet all too often we can allow such principles and structures to become rigid and exclusionary. This non-inclusive mentality is the shadow side, the temptation, if you will, of any religious community.

One unfortunate result of this type of mentality in Roman Catholicism has been the development of a “country club” notion of church. (For more on this, see Chris McGillion’s comments
here.) Another has been the development of the notion of a priestly caste that alone channels and represents the boundless reality of the sacred. There’s something, well, primitive and cultic about such a notion. And I believe it’s ultimately anti-Christian.

Indeed, the Christian tradition contains that wonderfully inclusive image of a priestly people – as opposed to a priestly caste. And then there’s that powerful and beautiful image of the example of Jesus’ life and death rending asunder the temple veil – that great curtain that was believed to separate the people from God’s holy presence. I remember that even as a child growing up in Australia, I was drawn to this story and all that it implied in terms of the breaking down of boundaries and the equal access of all to the sacred.

Oh, and then there’s Jesus’ instruction: Call no one “Father,” as we have only one Father and that is God the Creator. And again, even as a child I wondered how the Roman Catholic hierarchy managed to wriggle around that one!

I guess it does so in the same way that it ignores no less than three ecumenical councils that have condemned usury. Interestingly, not one church council has condemned gay marriage in civil society! Yet today the Vatican owns its own bank and is constantly meddling in civil politics to prevent a simple guy like me from marrying the man I love. Go figure.

For more on the Church’s changing perspective (and teaching) on usury, as compared to same-sex relations, click here.

Image 1: Photographer unknown.
Images 2 and 3: Michael Bayly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Greater Understanding

The following letter was published in yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press. It’s wonderful!

Seeking Greater Understanding

I must respectfully disagree with Pat Phillips’ “In Defense of Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality” (Feb. 12). Phillips writes in support of an erroneous and disrespectful teaching of the Catholic Church.

We have learned enough about human development to know that one’s sexuality is not a matter of choice. To deny homosexual persons the opportunity for intimate and caring relationships afforded to heterosexuals is an affront to our creator and antithetical to the church’s teaching on social justice.

To declare those who accept and try to live the Catholic faith as being in “mortal sin” simply because they seek the expression of their full humanness, or support others in such, is oppressive, arrogant, and unnecessarily divisive.

As a practicing, married, and heterosexual Catholic, I cannot accept the church’s position as articulated by Phillips and Archbishop John Nienstedt. I will continue to seek a greater understanding of my God and the teachings of his son Jesus through study, weekly worship, and frequent receipt of Holy Communion.

Robert B. Denardo
Eagan, MN

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Why We Gathered
Interesting Times Ahead
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Love is Love

Monday, February 18, 2008

Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East

Reuters has published an interesting and hopeful story about the increasing number of gay men and lesbians in Africa and the Middle East who are coming out via the Internet.

Following are excerpts from this article, accompanied by images from The Road to Love (Tarik El Hob),* director Remi Lange’s 2002 film that is not only a romantic tale of self discovery but perhaps the first film to explore homosexuality in the Islamic world.

Gay Africans and Arabs Come Out Online
By Andrew Heavens
February 17, 2008

When Ali started blogging that he was Sudanese and gay, he did not realize he was joining a band of African and Middle Eastern gays and lesbians who, in the face of hostility and repression, have come out online.

But within days the messages started coming in to “Keep up the good work,” wrote Dubai-based Weblogger ‘Gay by nature’. “Be proud and blog the way you like,” wrote Kuwait’s gayboyweekly. Close behind came comments, posts and links purporting to be from almost half the countries in the Arab League, including Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco.

Ali, who lists his home town as Khartoum but lives in Qatar, had plugged into a small, self-supporting network of people who have launched Web sites about their sexuality, while keeping their full identity secret. Caution is crucial - homosexual acts are illegal in most countries in Africa and the Middle East, with penalties ranging from long-term imprisonment to execution.

“The whole idea started as a diary. I wanted to write what’s on my mind and mainly about homosexuality,” he told Reuters in an e-mail. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect this much response.”

In the current climate, bloggers say they are achieving a lot just by stating their nationality and sexual orientation.

“If you haven’t heard or seen any gays in Sudan then allow me to tell you ‘You Don’t live In The Real World then,’” Ali wrote in a message to other Sudanese bloggers. “I’m Sudanese and Proud Gay Also.”

. . . That limited form of coming out has earned the bloggers abuse or criticism via their blogs’ comment pages or e-mails. “Faggot queen,” wrote a commentator called ‘blake’ on Kenya’s ‘Rants and raves’. “I will put my loathing for you faggots aside momentarily, due to the suffering caused by the political situation,” referring to the country’s post-election violence. Some are more measured: “The fact that you are a gay Sudanese and proudly posting about it in itself is just not natural,” a reader called ‘sudani’ posted on Ali’s blog.

Some of the bloggers use the diary-style format to share the ups and downs of gay life – the dilemma of whether to come out to friends and relatives, the risks of meeting in known gay bars, or, according to blogger “. . . and then God created Men!” the joys of the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh.

Others have turned their blogs into news outlets, focusing on reports of persecution in their region and beyond.

. . . The total number of gay bloggers in the region is still relatively small, say the few Web sites that monitor the scene. “It is the rare soul who is willing to go up against such blind and violent ignorance and advocate for gay rights and respect,” said Richard Ammon of which tracks gay news and Web sites throughout the world.

. . . The overall coverage may be erratic, but pockets of gay blogging activity are starting to emerge. There are blogs bridging the Arabic-speaking world from Morocco in the west to the United Arab Emirates in the east. There is a self-sustaining circle of gay bloggers in Kenya and Uganda together with a handful of sites put up by gay Nigerians.

And then there is South Africa, where the constitutional recognition of gay rights has encouraged many bloggers to come wholly into the open.

“I don’t preserve my anonymity at all. I am embracing our constitution which gives us the right to freedom of speech . . . There is nothing wrong that I am doing,” said Matuba Mahlatjie of the blog
My Haven.

Beyond the blogging scene, the Internet’s chat rooms and community sites have also become one of the safest ways for gay Africans and Arabs to meet, away from the gaze of a hostile society.

“That is what I did at first, I mean, I looked around for others until I found others,” said Gug, the writer behind the blog GayUganda.

“Oh yes, I do love the Internet, and I guess it is a tool that has made us gay Ugandans and Africans get out of our villages and realize that the parish priest’s homophobia is not universal opinion. Surprise, surprise!”

To read Andrew Heavens’ article in its entirety, click here.


* In 2005 I used The Road to Love as part of a CPCSM film discussion series, and noted that the film follows the journey of Karim, an Arab student filmmaker in Paris, who, intrigued by a television report on the history of male-male Islamic marriage in the Egyptian village of Siwa, decides to make a documentary on homosexuality in Arab culture. In the process, he meets Farid, an openly gay flight attendant who not only feels at ease with his sexuality but also suspects something about Karim that Karim is not willing to acknowledge. The formal video interview leads to an informal friendship between the two men, culminating in a shared trip to Morocco, where the exact nature of their relationship is finally resolved.

Following is how Bright Lights Film Journal describes The Road to Love:

Set in the Arab communities of Paris, The Road to Love opens with straight sociology student Karim (Karim Tarek) puzzling over what to do for a class project, finally deciding on a documentary about homosexuality in the Arab world. He interviews various gay men, from a Tunisian guy who likes being painted with henna (“I want my lovers to turn me into a living work of art”) to Mohammed, who explains that for Arabs, the macho inserter is okay, the passive acceptor is not. What Karim uncovers — tidbits like the fact that marriage between young Egyptian men existed until the second half of the 20th century — seems to hold more than academic interest. He’s given a present by one of his interviewees, Farid (Farid Tali) — a book by Jean Genet with a revealing inscription that frees him from his girlfriend when she discovers it. Soon Karim and Farid are traveling to Morocco and pay a pilgrimage visit to Genet’s grave. Shot in a deceptive verite style that gives it the loose feel of a home movie, The Road to Love has its share of sweet moments, but a slight story and too leisurely pacing ultimately conspire to limit its interest.

The following lyrics are from the theme song of The Road to Love:

Two men are on the road to love,
Walking handing in hand,
Without looking at girls
Whom some men undress.

The two men are talking about today
And about yesterday and tomorrow.
People don’t say anything,
But they guess that under the sun,
Even if the girls are gorgeous,
There are men who love men.

Two men are going their own sweet way.
They are still holding hands,
Like those who at the corner of a street,
Exchange glances, caresses, desires.

"TARIK EL HOB" music video by labaleine69

Recommended Off-site Links:
Africa and Homosexuality
Homosexuality in the Middle East
Being Gay, Christian, and African
Outcast Heroes: The Story of Gay Muslims
Gay and Lesbian Arab Society
Phil Hall’s review of The Road to Love
Erik Lundegaard’s review of The Road to Love

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
The Blood-Soaked Thread

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Debunking NARTH (Part I)

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d write more about CPCSM’s recent program, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo Science of NARTH.”

Accordingly, I’m sharing with you today an article I wrote for the February 2008 issue of
The Progressive Catholic Voice. As you’ll see, it’s the first in a two-part series that looks at CPCSM’s January 29 program, and basically summarizes the contribution made by Dr. John C. Gonsiorek.



On January 29, 2008, the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) sponsored an educational program entitled, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo Science of NARTH.”

Held in Minneapolis at the House of the Beloved Disciple, this program featured two local licensed psychologists, Jeffry G. Ford and John C. Gonsiorek, who shared their perspective on the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the theory and practice of “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, advocated by NARTH and other so-called ex-gay ministries and organizations.

These “ex-gay” entities are adamant that homosexuality is preventable in childhood and treatable in adulthood, and that most gays and lesbians can successfully convert to heterosexuality through what they label “reparative therapy” or “conversion therapy.”

The program was prompted by recent efforts on the part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolisto promote NARTH as a credible scientific organization. For instance, in the November 8 issue of The Catholic Spirit (the official newspaper of the archdiocese), Fr. Jim Livingston (1) endorsed NARTH by citing the organization as a useful resource and by encouraging people to visit its website so as “to learn . . . about the emotional root causes of homosexuality.”

Fr. Livingston also recommended an audio CD of a talk given by NARTH co-founder Joseph Nicolosi, an individual whom Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt, when he was a bishop in Detroit, invited to speak to the priests of the archdiocese as an “expert” on homosexuality.

Many Catholics are concerned by the local archdiocese’s increasing reliance on the perspective and “findings” of NARTH to support and validate church teaching on homosexuality.

In this first of two articles, CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly highlights the insights and information presented by John C. Gonsiorek, PhD (2) during his January 29 presentation at the House of the Beloved Disciple. In the March issue of The Progressive Voice, Michael will share highlights from Jeffrey Ford’s contribution to CPCSM’s program, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH.”

Part I – A “Fraudulent Healthcare System

Dr. Gonsiorek began his presentation with words of advice for Catholics troubled by the Archdiocese’s efforts to present NARTH as a legitimate scientific organization and to use its “findings” to validate church teaching on the “disordered” nature of homosexuality.

“If you’re going to challenge the archdiocese in its attempts to introduce what I consider to be a ‘fraudulent healthcare service,’” said Gonsiorek, “then you need to become educated about what the behavioral sciences say about sexual orientation. That has to be the base from which you operate as opposed to reacting to the ‘flakiness’ of organizations like NARTH.”

For the most up-to-date information regarding sexual orientation, Gonsiorek recommends the website of the American Psychological Association, and in particular, this site’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns page, its Guidelines for Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients, and its Division 44, also known as the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues.

The Origins of NARTH

Dr. Gonsiorek then proceeded to provide some insightful background information on the origins of NARTH – origins inseparable from the wider cultural debate on homosexuality and, specifically, the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders (followed two years later by the passage of a similar resolution of the American Psychological Association).

This change in the diagnosis of homosexuality was the result of the wealth of research data gathered since the early 1950s that showed no difference between homosexual and heterosexual populations in terms of “adjustment.”

Gonsiorek also noted that a significant “sea change” took place in the early 1970s when biological psychiatry began taking over the field of behavioral science from the psychoanalytical establishment. Indeed, the change in the diagnosis of homosexuality, says Gonsiorek, was “essentially a run-up of a long-standing fight” between these two groups, and was an important moment for the biological psychiatrists, “not only because they had a strong data base to support such a change, but because the psychoanalysts had always considered human sexuality to be their domain.”

In time, the psychoanalytical establishment also changed in its understanding of homosexuality; it now has the same sets of policies and principles about sexual orientation as the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Yet there were “old guard” psychoanalysts who were disgruntled about being displaced and seeing their organization change its views on homosexuality. This disaffected group of psychoanalysts formed an alliance with conservatively- and religiously-oriented psychotherapists. It was from this alliance that NARTH was established.

The problem with “conversion therapy”

Gonsiorek then outlined the problem with “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, the theory and practice that treats homosexuality as a pathology, as a disorder that can be “repaired” and changed.

“It’s nonsensical to have a treatment for a diagnosis that doesn’t exist,” says Gonsiorek. “With homosexuality being de-pathologized in 1973, what exactly is being treated? There is no data to support that sexual orientation can be changed and there’s no reason to change it; there’s no impairment.”

So why do people subject themselves to such a “nonsensical” treatment? Gonsiorek notes that there can be a “a great deal of coercion, a great deal of social pressure in some families and communities for those struggling with homosexual feelings to submit to conversion therapy. If they don’t, they’ll be socially ostracized.

Some ex-gay therapists insist that in recommending and/or offering conversion or reparative therapy they are merely giving people a choice as consumers to meet their personal health goals. This argument, says Gonsiorek is “specious and borders on malpractice.” Healthcare providers, he insists, “should not just do what consumers want but offer services that are based on established standards of care. And if the consumer wants something that is flakey, the answer is ‘No.’ To give them what’s flakey is malpractice.”

Gonsiorek also noted an “obvious sexism associated with the ex-gay movement.” “Most of the change efforts are focused on men,” he says. “Women are not so important to the ex-gay ministers and therapists.”

And there is yet another issue: If women marry supposedly ex-gay men and the marriage fails, it’s these women and any children produced by the marriage that suffer. “There’s a lot of this type of ‘collateral damage,’” says Gonsiorek, “but it’s rarely talked about by NARTH and the wider ex-gay establishment.”

Big business

Gonsiorek also observed that: “This whole discussion on reparative therapy is occurring in a socio-political context in which it’s becoming standard practice for both corporations and right-wing religious organizations to heavily fund institutes and think-tanks, and to purchase the science they want.”

“We saw this very dramatically with the tobacco company lawsuits, where the tobacco companies, for decades, bought their own science to support their positions,” he said. Yet despite the pseudo-science being exposed in such cases, “the funding by right-wing organizations within the scientific community and within church organizations [remains] big business,” notes Gonsiorek.

Above: Dr. John C. Gonsiorek at the House of the
Beloved Disciple,
January 29, 2008.

“It’s understandable,” says Gonsiorek, “that the lay public can become confused when every behavioral health organization does not support reparative therapy, and yet there are these official-sounding organizations, endorsed by people like archbishops, that make the argument that they are just one more credible voice among many.”

The real issue

At one point during his presentation, Gonsiorek was asked: “How do the people involved with groups like NARTH respond to the reality that every major professional organization in the behavioral sciences disagrees with them?”

Gonsiorek noted that they often attempt to “re-pathologize” homosexuality by making the following argument: Because certain subsets of the lesbian and gay population have higher rates of certain problems, it must mean there’s inherent pathology.

In response to this ploy, Gonsiorek notes that: “In reality, every group that is treated as second class has higher rates of both mental and physical health problems. If you treat people badly, they get messed up. You don’t need a PhD to figure that out. Yet we don’t say that women are inherently pathological because they have a higher rate of depression and eating disorders. Neither do we say that Native Americans are inherently pathological because they have higher rates of alcoholism.”

The “real issue,” says Gonsiorek, “is that if you can find anyone at all in the given population who is not pathological, then that disproves that the group is pathological. If you have a 20 percent higher base rate of a particular problem within a population, and if there are people within that population for whom that particular problem is not an issue, than it’s clear that something else is going on other than inherent pathology.”

Exploring the issue further, Gonsiorek noted that: “What often happens with people who are maneuvered into reparative therapy is that they’ve been trashed for years by churches and communities – even by their own families. As a result, they’re often depressed and anxious. That’s what the problem is, and that’s what requires treatment. So the reparative therapy is often done instead of what needs to be done – which is to undo the damage caused by harassment, ostracism, and disparagement.”

Science and religion

Gonsiorek concluded his talk by noting that “both the behavioral sciences and religion attempt to understand the human condition and to respond to problems within the human condition.” Yet he was adamant that science and religion are “not the same, and that one cannot speak for the other.”

“For a church leader to tell you what is good behavioral science,” he said, “carries about as much weight as your Uncle Joe telling you.”

Reflecting on the current situation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Gonsiorek said: “As a psychologist, I find it almost fraudulent for someone [like Archbishop Nienstedt] who claims to be a moral authority to be grandly operating in an area in which they have no competence.”

– Michael Bayly
The Progressive Catholic Voice
February 2008

For Part II of “Debunking NARTH,” click here.


1. Fr. Jim Livingston serves as lead chaplain to the local chapter of Courage (which, as I noted above, goes by the name of Faith in Action in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese). Courage purports to help people move beyond “same-sex attraction” by encouraging a life of “interior chastity in union with Christ.” The movement labels itself a “pro-chastity ministry,” and equates chastity with celibacy.

Although Courage, which, along with NARTH, Livingston enthusiastically promotes in his November 8 commentary, acknowledges that the “inclination of homosexual attractions” is “psychological understandable,” such attractions are nevertheless considered “objectively disordered” – a view promulgated by the hierarchical church. Courage often substitutes the words “homosexuality” and “gay” with the NARTH-coined phrase, “same-sex attraction disorder” – a term unrecognized by any professional health association. Following NARTH’s lead, Courage likens homosexuality to alcoholism, and conducts its “support group” using the 12-Step format developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Some members of Courage even consider their “disorder” to be curable, and explain its origin using debunked theories of dominant mothers, distant fathers and abusive family relations.

Livingston’s commentary in The Catholic Spirit is clear evidence that the quackery of NARTH is actively endorsed and encouraged by some within the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

2. John C. Gonsiorek, PhD, is a fellow of American Psychological Association (APA) Division 9 (also called the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), and Division 12 (the Society of Clinical Psychology).

John is also a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, and a Past-President of APA Division 44 – also known as the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues. For 25 years, he had an independent practice of clinical and forensic psychology in Minneapolis.

John has published widely in the areas of professional misconduct, sexual orientation and identity, and professional ethics. For many years, he provided expert witness evaluation and testimony regarding impaired clergy and professionals, standards of care, and psychological damages. He has also provided training and consultation to a variety of religious denominations and organizations.

A consulting editor for Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, John is also the author of a number of publications, including: Breach of Trust: Sexual Exploitation by Health Care Professionals and Clergy
, Homosexuality: Research Implications for Public Policy (with Weinrich); Male Sexual Abuse: A Trilogy of Intervention Strategies (with Bera and Letourneau), and Homosexuality and Psychotherapy: A Practitioner’s Handbook of Affirmative Models.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Conversion Therapy” and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH
Former “Ex-Gay” Shares His Experience of NARTH
Far from “Innocuous”
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
What Scientists in the UK are Saying About Homosexuality